Friday, October 30, 2015

An evening stroll with my nephews

The day we have arrived in the village, my two nephews incessantly insisted on me and my wife to visit their paddy field. We were simply astounded by their offer, and humbly accepted it.   
So the next evening, a little before the sunset, we set out. A few minutes’ walk from their house has brought us to the vast piece of rice land. And once we walked in, it felt heavenly. It was filled with ripening colors of golden paddy like a lavish gift from the God. 

In the middle of the field, the lads pressed in front of us, taking a fast stride. And suddenly, they stopped. They raised their hands and started pointing out to their field.

Their voice filled with excitement and pride, they shouted, “That’s our paddy!”

It was close to harvest, and looked very rich.
From our family, these two lads are the only young children who are being brought up in the village at the moment. Both go to the school: the elder one a Class I student; and younger one is in Class PP.

We continued our stroll, gently touching the rice and feeling its strong odor. However, my wife and I have been left quite surprised. The young boys delighted us with their farm knowledge. Once in the field, they no more acted like a kid.

Looking at the rice and its color, they can assess the rice’s quality and know when they are going to harvest their rice. So young, yet they understand the importance of water and soil to their crops. Moreover, they know so well about their village and households and the people who live there.
The reality is that the children of my village, by way of life, are continuously engaged in life and works of their parents. As they grow up, they acquire the farming skills and knowledge as in the process. 

After half an hour, the sun sunk and we returned towards home. On the way back, my wife asked the lads what they want to become in the future. The older one aspires to become a teacher, and the younger one, a driver.

None wants to be a farmer. 
Hearing it pained me. Even the children who know so well about farming do not wish to become a farmer. I know the education will definitely take them away from here.

Will they return and again show similar interest in their farm?

For the first time in my life, I began to worry what future holds for this beautiful farmland. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My village, through the digital lens

Yet again, I visited my village, Chuzagang, Gelephu; this time particularly to celebrate the Dashain festival with my parents and family members. But like always, my village never stops astonishing me with its beauty and simplicity. This time of the year is rice, and all about rice growing abundantly everywhere, which is being further glossed by the magnificent sunset. The reasons are endless, and can be better explained through my digital lens.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

Scarecrow festivals in Bhutan?

During my last visit to Paro, I scurried quite a long distance of the valley; and one thing that amazed me was the vast land of rice fields. Then I strongly felt the reasons why the locals objected the government’s decision to convert it into a throm. It would be a disgrace to transform this beautiful farmland into a concrete jungle.

But this post is not about the farmland and throm. It is about one more thing that amazed me in Paro, scarecrows. To tell you, I see them everywhere in and around the rice fields, thousands in number, guarding the crops. Most of them resemble human shape.

The Bhutanese farmers are simply clever in designing and erecting the bird-scarers to scare away crows and wild animals. Some are very frightening, others cute and funny, and few threatening with bows and arrows. They are dressed in some of the old shirts and trousers, torn plastics and caps. Some have highly reflective films and CDs and bottles tied to their hands to create shimmers from the sun.

I know the locals make scarecrows to protect their crops, but at the same it is a creative centre piece for one’s crops. Amazing creative works!

On my own, I studied about the scarecrow online. I have come across very interesting findings though; indeed, I am quite surprised. The straw-man has a huge impact in some countries.

In Japan, there are many fascinating tales and legends surrounding the use and character of scarecrow, known as kakashis, in the rice fields. In Kojiki, the oldest surviving historical chronicle of Japan, a scarecrow known as Kuebiko appears as a deity of agriculture and wisdom. Till this present day, it is worshipped, and the Kuebiko Shrine in Sakurai is dedicated to the deity. 

In the United Kingdom, the use of scarecrows as a protector of crops date from time immemorial and it has huge cultural impact. Many villages in England have annual scarecrow festivals where there are many events like display of hand-crafted scarecrows, scarecrow sculpting, scarecrow trails and scarecrow contests.

In the USA, different villages host annual scarecrow festivals which attract thousands of people and they also raise money for charity. Besides scarecrows, the festivals have live entertainment, art and craft show, carnival, foods, eating competition and children activities. The festivals are truly a family festive fun.

Bluntly speaking, I am not aware of the origin and any tales of scarecrows in Bhutan. But I assume there should be, looking at the rich history of our culture and the prevalence of scarecrows in Bhutan. I feel it would be nice that we study and record about scarecrows of Bhutan.

Like in other countries, we can also initiate scarecrow festivals in Bhutan, especially in a place like Paro. This can encourage the farmers to be a creative and smart person who understands the historical significance of our agricultural practice. It would provide an opportunity for the locals to earn revenue by exhibiting their products and skills and to create awareness on importance of farming.

Through participation in this event, they would not only learn to protect their crops from birds and animals, but also learn to protect and preserve their farmlands from the aggressive and encroaching town planning.  

Some pictures of Paro scarecrows here:

Friday, October 9, 2015

A teacher’s hope

Last summer, I met Dawa in my office. Then, he had just started his teaching career after he graduated from the Paro College of Education. I knew him for a couple of years; he is young and highly motivated and inspired teacher.
Dawa with his students
Out of curiosity, I asked his placement. He replied me humbly, “I am placed at a very remote school in Samarchen; actually, it is not even a school. It’s an extended classroom of Sinchula Primary School.”
In actuality, I heard the name for the first time. But he explained that his school falls under Darla Gewog in Chukha. Samarchen lacks motor road connection and the villagers are mostly poor. To reach his school, from the nearest motor road at Gedu, he has to travel a 7-km farm road and then walk on foot two hours.  
However, what surprised me the most was when he told me that he is the lone teacher who teaches 16 students of classes PP-2 students of the ECR. He applies the multi-grade method of teaching.
Instead of feeling disappointed and frustrated, he seemed very excited and motivated about his placement and profession. This encouraged me to tell him that it was an opportunity for him to transform the lives of the poor children by educating them. Being a teacher is not only about teaching, but you can also contribute to community development, I affirmed.  
Dawa while in Thimphu
At that moment, I just uttered, “If you have any plans for your ECR, let me know. I will help you.”
I don’t know precisely why I said that. It worried me later, what if I cannot fulfill the teacher’s hope. Moreover, I am not a rich man, neither am I popular. 
Dawa really trusted my words and kept hope. After that, he constantly contacted me and shared his plans with me. 
A few months later, he came to see me in Thimphu to discuss his plans. During the meeting, we have outlined some activities particularly to improve the living condition of the children and ECR’s facilities. They are: 1) Reading Programme; 2) Library Corner; 3) Distribution of Shoes; and 4) Hand washing practice.
It is, in fact, Dawa’s passion and altruistic motivation to help his students and the community that I started seriously looking for support from the people I know. 
One after another, I got assurance of help from my friends and colleagues. In the meantime, my small room was almost full with books, shoes, stationery items and soaps.
 Library Corner
Dawa himself arranged transportation. Finally, the Samarchen got its own library corner with a new bookshelf and books where the students can read different books and stories. With the help of soaps, the students regularly practice the ritual of hand washing and maintain personal sanitary.
Today, the children have their own pair of shoes, and they wear it with smiles on their face. For most of them, it is their first shoes. Still, Reading Programme is yet to be organized.

Showing off their new shoes

Recently, Dawa told me, “The children and their parents are very happy. They are repeatedly telling me that they want to meet you all. At least for once, they want to meet personally and express their gratitude.”

Students practise hand washing
It was all because of the teacher himself who had put extra effort, who assumed his roles beyond classroom teaching that this initiative happened. If all the teachers of Bhutan had his passion and motivation, our society would be a different place. 

He sent me this picture...
This touched me immensely!
And for this, the following kind and compassionate individuals should be graciously thanked: 

 1. Tashi Namgay, Founder/Executive Director, Bhutan Kidney Foundation, for donating shoes
 2. Karma Yangchen, Ministry of Education for contributing over 500 books
 3. Rima Reyka, Singapore, for contributing Nu 5,000 to make a bookshelf
 4. Deki Tshomo, Dy. Chief Programme Officer, MoE for contributing soaps and nursery CDs
 5. Others for contributing drawing and painting materials.

Indeed, a teacher who hopes can really care and inspire change!